5 Minutes Read
The poker industry globally, at this point, is rather patriarchal, and it takes caliber, determination, and dedication for a woman to succeed in such a male-dominated environment. Examples such as Kristen Bicknell, Maria Ho, and Liv Boree have proved that it can be done. In our own country, WSOP bracelet winner Nikita Luther, along with other pros like Muskan Sethi, Minissha Lamba, and Pratibha Arya have paved the way for female poker players to make a mark in the community. In that vein, we bring you the story of our very first female ‘Young Gun’ – Kanchan Sharma (cover image)!
In the past, we have featured many upcoming players, IITians, engineers, lawyers, however, all were men. We are very proud to showcase, for the very first time, a budding female poker player as our latest Young Gun!
The 26-year-old was introduced to poker while working as a Learning Designer in 2017. Attracted by the game’s intrinsic nature, Sharma’s passion for poker ultimately led her to quit the more traditional profession in favor of pursuing poker as a career. Given that she presently has ₹93.88 Lakhs in recorded online winnings, it would suffice to say that the decision has been worth it.
The B.Com graduate is predominantly an MTT player, with her personal-best score of ₹9.39 Lakhs coming in Spartan Poker’s The Millionaire Main Event on February 9, where she finished fifth. She has also participated in a few live poker series, with a personal-best ₹1.01 Lakhs that she won in the BPT Main Event last year.
The key reason behind Sharma’s success, besides her hard work, has been her family’s support. Especially her mother, Madhu Sharma, who had undoubtedly played a pivotal role in encouraging her daughter to keep learning and getting better in the game.
In this candid tête-à-tête, Sharma talks about her poker journey, family, and the future of women in poker. Here is her poker story.
Beginning of the Poker Journey
Sharma’s tryst with the mind sport began not very long back. Sometime around 2017, the girl from Agra was introduced to poker by a friend.
“I was introduced to poker around 3 years ago by a friend who plays professionally. I was always interested in card games, and his zeal towards this game intrigued me as well. I learnt the basics of poker from him before delving more into the sport.”
Just like any other novice, Sharma didn’t know much about poker strategy. However, the more she learnt about the game, the more her interest grew.
“Initially, I did not know much about the strategy aspect of the game, however slowly and steadily, I got to studying the game. The more I studied, the more interest I developed in the game.”
Becoming a Poker Pro & Support From the Family
After working as a Learning Designer for almost four years, Sharma decided to abandon the corporate world. By this time, she had already acquired a certain level of proficiency in poker and felt confident enough to quit her conventional job for poker.
“After college, I was working as a Learning Designer for around 3.5 years. I wasn’t completely enjoying the corporate culture and came across poker around that time. I invested my free time post office hours in studying and playing poker. I played poker along with my job for around 6-7 months before I decided to quit and take the plunge.”
Sharma had told us in a previous interview that her mother, Madhu Sharma, has been a successful entrepreneur and has raised her single-handedly. Even though her mother is now a pillar of strength and support for her poker aspirations, things weren’t all the rosy early on. Like many parents, Sharma’s mother, too, had her inhibitions regarding her daughter taking up poker professionally. But seeing Kanchan’s passion for the game and the hard work that she was pouring into getting better at the game, eventually got her to change her mind.
“Initially, just like any other parent, my mother had her inhibitions around taking up the game professionally. She wasn’t sure if leaving my job with a steady income for poker was a very good idea. However, she saw me put in a lot of effort into studying the game and grinding post office hours. I think seeing me put in the effort and work hard towards a goal made her change her mind eventually.”
Despite coming from a tier-2 city like Agra, Sharma’s family and friends have been supportive of her poker career.
“My friends and family have been supportive in general. They do have certain queries about the legality of the game in India, but once that is affirmed, most of them have been really supportive.”
“I think once you and your close circle of family and friends are convinced about something, it’s easier to not feel pressured by people in general. There is a lack of awareness that exists, but the environment is changing gradually with more players joining the circuit,” Sharma added.
Working to Get Better
Even though she is relatively new to poker, Sharma has cracked the key to success – studying and grinding.
“Well, there is hardly any secret, so to say. The only way to be continually successful is to keep at it, continue studying and grinding. Grinding is the only way to cut down on variance, and the sooner one realizes it, the better it is. Winning and earning money is the goal, but the only way to achieve it is to fall in love with the process and the game.”
However, being a smart player, she understands the importance of bankroll management (BRM) and believes strongly in the importance of mental health.
“I think a common mistake that people tend to make is just underestimating the mental aspect of the game and following proper BRM. Strategically, I feel a lot of players, and even regs, struggle with blind vs. blind game, and it’s because the ranges are too wide.”
Mentors, Training Subscriptions & HUDs
Talking about the importance of mentoring in poker, Sharma said, “Mentoring and having people who are as motivated about the game as you are, really helps. It is always better to have people whose goals are aligned with yours around you. As I mentioned earlier, Utsav Taneja initially introduced me to the game and answered all my queries very patiently. Sharad Rao coached me for a bit and made me realize the importance of believing in the process and just being self-motivated in general. I have been a part of IPP (India Poker Pros) for almost a year now, and Abhishek Rathore and Buffy (Jamie Wilby) have really helped me improve and work on my game.”
Elaborating on the benefits of training subscriptions, she adds, “I used RIO (Run it Once) when I was playing cash games. I have been using RYE (Raise Your Edge) now that I play tournaments.”
Talking about HUD`s, she added, “HUD is kind of like a necessity when it comes to online poker. I have recently started using PIO and have previously used Flopzilla and EquiLab.”
She also talked about the players she looks up to in the domestic and international circuits. “Within the domestic circuit, I admire Danish’s [Danish Shaikh] and Sriharsha’s [Sriharsha Doddapaneni] games. Internationally I have been following Fedor Holz, Jonathan Van Fleet (Apestyles), and LlinusLlove.”
Impact of COVID-19 on Her Grind Routine
Sharma sharing her grind routine said, “My grind routine is pretty simple – I grind 5-6 days a week. Usually, I take Mondays off as Sundays are comparatively intense, and not as many tournaments are lined up for Monday. I also take out time to study regularly and squeeze in some physical activity. I play NLHE MTTs.”
Being primarily an online player, Sharma admitted that her life or livelihood hasn’t been affected much by the COVID-19 pandemic, apart from her having to return to her hometown of Agra.
“I think I am one of the privileged people in our country to say that the pandemic has not majorly affected me, especially in terms of my work. My daily life and grinding routine remain pretty much the same, the only change being that I’m back in my hometown and the little social life that I had is now non-existent (just like everyone else). We had a few live poker series that were planned during this time, but well, it can wait, considering the impact of COVID-19 in our country.”
She shared the belief expressed by many others regarding the uncertainty surrounding the revival of the live poker scene.
“Currently, it is difficult to fathom the impact of the pandemic in the long run. There is a lot of looming uncertainty in the world in general. For now, I think the live poker scene has been put to a halt for the best as there is scope for the game online as well. The number of players coming in online has increased, the number of tournaments being held online has also been increased by poker websites to cater to the poker community. The rest, I think we will have to wait and see.”
When asked if she has plans for traveling internationally to play poker once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Sharma proved how disciplined she is in bankroll management by saying, “Right now, it seems very vague. I don’t have the bankroll for it. So, no plans as of now.”
While poker has been steadily gaining traction among women, it is still by far a male-dominated sport. Weighing in on this, Sharma said, “The ratio of male to female players in the industry is disproportionate for sure, but gradually more women are taking to the game. There is also a lack of awareness about the game in general that exists in our country. I think creating more awareness around the game and talking more openly about choosing it as a profession should help. Also, many professional players are trying to spread awareness and publicize the game in general. It is all a slow process, but I’m sure it will have an impact in the long run.”
On a parting note, she added, “I think it’s a wonderful time to be a poker player in India. The game is gaining immense popularity gradually, and more and more people are joining the circuit. It is just a matter of putting in your best effort, studying regularly, grinding regularly, and just enjoying the process of playing the game.”
While Sharma is our first female Young Gun, we hope that there will be many more in the days to come!